| Amina in Lucknow. Picture by Devyansh Srivastava
Lucknow, April 9: When schoolteacher Amina Qadir, 30, returned home on Thursday evening, she had switched on the TV by habit. The newscaster’s tone suggested something big had happened.
Two days before the Uttar Pradesh polls kicked off, Allahabad High Court had told the state government to de-recognise Muslims as a minority community.
“I didn’t pay much attention… the full implications hit me the next morning when I read the papers,” she said. “My first reaction was we are not treated sympathetically by anyone. If our minority status is taken away, we would go from bad to worse.”
But by the time the order was stayed the following day, Amina had gone more deeply into the issue, dealing again with a host of tricky questions her experience had thrown up before her. “Our minority status is more a hindrance than a help… it stops us from mingling with the mainstream,” she said.
So what does she want' “Give us equal opportunities. We’ll prove that though we are quantitatively smaller, qualitatively we will be a force to reckon with.”
Amina’s uneasiness with the structure of sops that goes with the classification of groups as minorities and weaker sections is easy to understand. Her background could loosely be described as “privileged”.
She is unmarried, has a master’s in English and a bachelor’s degree in education. She teaches English, geography and environmental sciences at Lucknow’s Navyug Radiance School and doesn’t relish the prospect of being just a “good homemaker and a good mother”.
She said she comes from a “liberal” family of Bahraich in eastern Uttar Pradesh. “All of us were and are teachers, some of the older women in the family, too, worked. My father would say that unless his three daughters were educated enough to be career-worthy, he would not marry them off.”
Mohammed Qadir Khan, who retired as the principal of Lucknow’s Islamia College, sent his daughters to Loreto Convent and later, Isabella Thorburn College.
“Religious labels meant nothing in those days. We used to share our tiffins. My friends loved the kebabs I brought. Then came a time when they refused to eat my food.”
The turning point was the Babri issue. “I was in Class VII or VIII when the locks (of the mosque) were opened (for worship by Hindus). In our neighbourhood, we wore black bands and put up black flags. I knew things were getting bad for us.”
But when the mosque fell on December 6, 1992, the Muslims of the area protected the 10-odd Hindu families in their midst. “We included the Hindus in the groups that sat on vigil all night. When a Muslim shopkeeper refused to sell to Hindus, we threatened to boycott him.”
Amina’s neighbourhood sprawls behind Model Town, which houses the RSS headquarters and is home to the most committed Sangh supporters in town.
“The VHP chaps tried to scale the wall and attack us but the Hindus and Muslims together warded them off. I was scared but my parents said they had seen worse during Partition and had still decided to live in India. We cannot be escapist. This is the gift of education — it’s the greatest liberator.”
In her school, the principal banned mention of the Babri demolition. “But there was a classmate who asked me, ‘Why did you people settle down in our land and break our temples' It’s tit for tat.’ I am not a fanatic but if someone speaks out against my religion, I get upset. I reported the matter to my teacher.”
But she noticed subtle changes in her friends’ behaviour. “Suddenly my kebabs were unwanted. Even my veg food was suspect. I was asked if we cooked vegetables and meat in the same vessel.”
Last July, when she joined Navyug school, she found out she was the second Muslim to have done so. The first had been her elder sister in 1982.
“Maybe it’s because the sari is compulsory at the school and Muslim women weren’t prepared for this. I have no problems — I feel students take sari-clad teachers more seriously,” she twinkled.
Amina is religious, knows Urdu and Arabic and is “proud to be a Muslim and an Indian”. But mention politics and she makes a wry face.
“Unless educated Muslims who are sensitive to the community’s plight and aren’t self-centred enter politics, it’s hopeless.”
Yet she votes dutifully. “My one vote can perhaps make a difference.”